Thursday, June 12, 2014

Getting Pregnant as a Post-doctoral Scholar at the University of Chicago

Getting Pregnant as a Post-doctoral Scholar at the University of Chicago

**PLEASE NOTE:  This blog was written by a postdoc scholar in the PSD at University of Chicago.  Health care insurance laws and University policies may have changed since this person's experiences.  Please be sure to do your own research in contacting your health insurance company and your department as this may not reflect current BSD policy.**

Congratulations! Whether you were actively trying to have a baby or were happily surprised, finding out you are pregnant is only the first step in the process.

   1.   (~4-6 weeks) Find a doctor and schedule your first doctor’s appointment.
a.  Look up doctors that are covered by your insurance plan and seek personal recommendations. Offices will often charge a fee to transfer your files so it is better not to switch too many times during your pregnancy.
b.      When you call to make this appointment they want to know if you have already taken and had a positive pregnancy test, be prepared to give first day of last menstrual period, and insurance information. The appointment is generally booked for when you are 8-12 weeks pregnant. It is still a good idea to schedule this appointment far in advance since the first appointment will be quite long and is sometimes challenging for a clinic to schedule.

2     2.     (~6-10 weeks) Call your insurance company to find out about your benefits.
a.       Some insurance plans with BlueCrossBlueShield of Illinois want you to enroll in a program called “Special Beginnings” during the first trimester. As of April 2013 BCBSIL PPO plans through Garnett Powers did not require this, but it is always good to call and find out.
b.      It is very useful to go over what is covered vs. not especially with regards to additional pre-natal testing that the doctor might recommend, but insurance won’t cover (blood testing for genetic disorders is one potential example of this).
c.       Once you are given a due date at your first appointment you will need to call the insurance company again to pre-certify your hospital stay for delivery. This doesn’t have to be right away but will need to be done before the 3rd trimester to avoid additional fees.
d.      A note about co-pays and deductibles: You should ask your insurance provider for what appointment they charge co-pays. On the BCBSIL PPO plans through Garnett Powers in 2013 co-pays are $15 for every appointment you go to. However, while your very first pre-natal appointment will require a co-pay, under this plan all other pre-natal appointments do not have a co-pay—this is great news since youll be going to the doctor a lot! If you end up having to see a specialist besides your obstetrician you will have co-pays for that doctor (even for treatment of pregnancy conditions). Deductible -- The first doctors appointment will meet the majority, if not all of your deductible for the year. Dont be surprised though if it takes a couple of appointments to fully use it up.

3     3.     (~8-12 weeks) First doctor’s appointment
a.       You’ll need to bring your insurance information to this appointment and be prepared to fill out medical history forms.
b.      The first prenatal appointment is quite long (1½ -2 hours) and may include an initial ultrasound to confirm location of pregnancy and number of babies expected, detailed medical history with doctor, giving a urine sample, Pap smear, and blood work.
c.       Doctor’s appointments will be scheduled every month until week 32 when they switch to every 2 weeks. At 36 weeks doctors appointments will be weekly until delivery. If at all possible schedule these appointments as far in advance as possible so you can get the best fit in your schedule.

4     4.     (~12-14 weeks) Inform your PI that you are pregnant and give them the expected due date.
a.       It is a very personal decision when to share news about pregnancy, but it is quite reasonable to wait until at least 14 weeks, which is generally considered to be the end of the first trimester and the time when risk of miscarriage drops.
b.      There are some benefits to telling your PI sooner rather than later since you will have to schedule numerous doctor’s appointments during working hours and some pregnancy complications (like extreme nausea, etc) may require significant time off during the first trimester.
c.       No matter when you decide to share the news, your PI should hear it first hand from you and before you become visibly pregnant (this varies quite a bit).

5     5.     Learn about your benefits.
a.       The new Postdoc Policy Manual (May 2012 edition) is somewhat less helpful than the previous version as a resource for the specifics of your benefits, as it only mentions the FMLA policy. As a post-doctoral scholar (fellows are different**) you are a benefits eligible employee of the University, and as such you are eligible for short-term disability*.

 “Childbearing, Parental, and Family and Medical Leave
Postdoctoral Scholars may become eligible for childbearing leave, parental leave, and for family and medical leave. See Personnel Policy U522. Postdoctoral Scholars who have been Postdoctoral Researchers for 12 continuous months but who are ineligible for FMLA because they were Postdoctoral Fellows during any part of the 12 months before the date on which the requested leave is to begin, may request up to 12 consecutive weeks of unpaid leave for the birth of the employee’s child. Childbearing, parental, and family and medical leave policies for Postdoctoral Fellows and Postdoctoral Fellows – Paid Direct are subject to the requirements or limitations of the extramural funding agency.”

*  An appointment is made in the title “Postdoctoral Scholar” when (1) the agency funding the salary requires or permits the appointee to be a University employee, or (2) whenever University discretionary funds are used to support the position. In their capacity as Postdoctoral Researchers, Postdoctoral Scholars are University employees.
“A benefits eligible employee, who has completed six months of continuous and active employment, is eligible to apply for Short Term Disability (STD) when he or she is unable to perform the duties of his or her job due to a non-work-related injury or illness (including a pregnancy-related disability).”

**Postdoctoral Fellows are not eligible for STD leave because they are not employees of the University, and the leave terms are stipulated by the fellowship funding agency.

b.      The Family Medical Leave (FMLA) Act guarantees you get 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a child and you can come back to your job.

“The University will grant eligible employees leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for up to 12 work weeks during any rolling 12-month period. An employee who has been employed at the University for at least 12 months and has worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period preceding the leave is eligible for FMLA leave.”

c.      Maternity leave for post-docs is lumped under short-term disability leave, and the quick summary is that if you are a post-doctoral scholar you get full pay for 2 weeks (using up your sick leave… this is not optional) and 60 % pay for the remainder of your FMLA leave.

“STD pays 60% of an employee’s regular salary minus all regular deductions. STD payments begin once an employee is totally disabled for a continuous period of fourteen (14) days or an employee’s accrued sick leave is exhausted, whichever is longer. STD ends after 13 weeks of disability.”

d.      STD forms and FMLA forms both have sections that require your healthcare provider to fill out and sign. Many offices charge a flat fee to fill out any paperwork. At my office it was $30 per document and it can take up to 2 weeks to get the paperwork back (so give it to them early!).

e.      Obviously taking time off after childbirth is a very personal decision, and it can be quite challenging to plan for being gone for almost 3 months (max FMLA leave) during the limited time that you are a post-doc. Yearly contract renewals and the flexibility of your PI are always going to be factors a post-doc must consider. By the nature of the position, sick time, vacation, and leave arrangements tend to be coordinated through each individual PI as opposed to staff who document their time online. Whatever your plans may be, you should at least know that according to official University policy you can take up to 12 weeks of maternity leave, and that at least 10 of those weeks can be paid at 60 % of your base salary through STD benefits.

6       6.     (~14-20 weeks) Look into childcare arrangements
a.       If you have not already, consider your plans for when you return from maternity leave. Some daycares require that you already have a child before you can get on their wait lists and others can be booked even before your child is born.
b.      In large cities is it recommended you make arrangements 6 months before you need it so it is worth doing some preliminary research now.

7      7.     (~20-24 weeks) Coordinate short-term disability (STD) and FMLA leave with your PI and the Associate Dean* of your Division at least 3 months before the birth and make sure all of your paperwork is submitted at least 1 month before.
a.    *There are many associate deans in both the BSD and PSD. In the PSD the correct associate dean to contact is the Associate Dean of Administration. There is no identical dean in the BSD, but a good place to start is to contact the Associate Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs and they can direct you to the correct person if need be. ( and
b.   You will also want to coordinate your absence with your PI to make sure time-sensitive experiments are covered and to clarify your plans for returning. FMLA paperwork requires your supervisor and the associate deans signatures. STD paperwork goes through the associate dean only.
c.       Submit both STD and FMLA forms to your healthcare provider for them to fill out. Many offices ask for 2 weeks to get everything completed and charge a fee.

8      8.     (~20-24 weeks) Pre-register for your delivery at the hospital.
a.       If you have not already, call your insurance company to pre-certify your delivery. Make sure that your insurance company covers the hospital where you plan to deliver your baby so you do not get charged out-of-network fees. You need to give them your due date and they will pre-certify the correct number of days based on the type of delivery you expect to have (i.e. normal vaginal delivery or Caesarean section). They know that both the due date and type of delivery can change, but it is used as a placeholder until you actually deliver the baby.
b.  In additional to pre-certifying your delivery with the insurance company, you need to pre-register at the hospital where you will deliver. Northwestern Memorial Prentice Women’s Hospital, for example, requires you to fill out a long form online and then mail or fax in a number of signed consent forms.
c.     During pre-registration you will also have to pick a pediatrician for your child so that the baby can be examined after birth. Again, recommendations from friends are quite useful, as are recommendations from the doctor you see. It is useful to pick a pediatrician who sees patients at the same hospital you are delivering at.

9      9.     (~24-28 weeks) Look into the classes offered at the hospital you will be delivering at, and make reservations for yourself and your support person.
a.       Hospitals will often have classes on the labor process, tours, infant CPR, breast-feeding, etc. You can sign up for one or many (most not free) to help you prepare for the arrival of your child.
b.      Generally there are free tours of the labor and delivery facilities so that you know where to go when the time comes. Free programs are generally not advertised as well as those that cost money, so you may need to call and ask.

1       10.  (Birth) Within 48 hours of the birth of your child you need to make sure that your insurance company has been contacted with the actual days you spend in the hospital.
a.       The pre-certification of the hospital stay is based on your estimated due date and planned method of delivery. The insurance company knows this is probably not the actual day you will deliver, so they give you time to call them after you deliver the baby to adjust the dates. For BCBSIL PPO plan in 2013 it was a 48 hour time window, however, you should double check this with your own provider.
b.      Some hospitals will call the insurance company for you, but ultimately it is your responsibility to make sure you let them know so that you don’t get charged extra for an unauthorized hospital stay.

1       11.  (Soon after birth) Within 30 days after the birth of your child you need to enroll them onto   your  (or your partner’s) insurance plan. Open enrollment timelines are very strict so don’t miss this window!

1       12.  Return to Work
a.       FMLA leave does require that you present a fitness-for-duty certificate to be restored to employment. This is something you will need to obtain from your healthcare provider, most likely you will be cleared for work after your 6 week post-partum checkup.
b.      If you are receiving short-term disability payments, you should contact the Associate Dean at least 14 days prior to the anticipated return date. A Postdoctoral Scholar who returns to work after receiving STD may be required to furnish a medical certification indicating the Scholar is able to return to work and to perform the essential functions of his or her job.

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